< Episcopal News and Current Events -- News About ECUSA: Rally to Save Social Services Building in Wichita Episcopal News and Current Events -- News About ECUSA: Rally to Save Social Services Building in Wichita
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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rally to Save Social Services Building in Wichita

Kansas Episcopalians Rally to Save Social Services Building

It is wrong for the government to take property without just compensation, according to the Rt. Rev. Dean Wolfe, Bishop of Kansas. He urged a Sept. 9 rally of some 300 supporters of Episcopal Social Services to persist until the Sedgwick County Commission makes adequate provision for the relocation of the agency based in downtown Wichita.

Last year Episcopal Social Services (ESS) served more than 7,000 people during 19,000 visits. The agency operates a variety of programs, including help with employment, education and counseling. In addition, it provides more than 19,000 free hot lunches a year and emergency food assistance. In preparation for construction of a downtown sports arena, the county recently offered ESS $500,000 for its building, but Sandra Lyon, executive director of ESS, said the agency will need at least $1.3 million to purchase and refurbish a new building that meets its needs.

Finding a new facility for the agency is a challenge, given the shortage of suitable buildings in the area. ESS wants to remain downtown, she said, because that is where most of its clients live. It also needs ready access to the bus transit system, since so many clients don’t own cars, and they need a parking lot big enough to accommodate the nearly 100 volunteers who serve there.

There are 26 pieces of property slated for demolition, according to Ms. Lyon, and the county has settled with only three of them to date. One of those, a bar across the street from ESS with a history of police calls for drug and alcohol violations, was offered $915,000 for its building. Ms. Lyon said the county told her it had to factor in the bar’s potential lost revenue but couldn’t do that for a not-for-profit agency like ESS. “We asked them to consider the value of what we do, and there is a dollar value to it, but they said it wasn’t possible to do that,” she said.

The Rev. Steven Mues, rector of the Combined Ministry of St. Alban’s and St. Stephen’s in Wichita, fired up the crowd when he chastised the county for comparing the ESS building to a warehouse in its appraisal process. “This is not a warehouse,” he said. “It is a recycling center, a recycling center for human beings, providing the resources so those who have been cast aside and scratched and damaged and hurt by life can find resources to help them reclaim life and become new beings.”

ESS was founded in 1988 by the congregations of the greater Wichita area with money raised in the Venture in Mission capital campaign. The agency’s building ever since has been known as “Venture House.”

Because ESS did not accept the county’s offer, the agency has been sued to put the matter before a judge for final resolution. Word of that action came the day before the rally.

Melodie Woerman


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